Monday, October 31, 2011

The end of Google Reader shares and the rebirth Gordon's twitter feed

(cross posted to Gordon's Notes and Gordon's Tech)

Google Reader shares are gone.

I'm not going to switch to sharing via G+.

I will, however, be sharing via Twitter: John Gordon (jgordonshare) on Twitter.

That Twitter stream used to consist of feed-generated tweets from GR shares. Now it's the closest thing I have to an archive of those shares.

Now it will be the primary place I share -- with the help of the Twitter share bookmarklet.

Lessons from Dapocalypse Reader

I'm processing Google's day of infamy. I've written my Dear Google letter. So what lessons do I take away from this?

Here are a few ...

  1. If you're not paying for it, you're the product.
  2. If you can't store Cloud data locally, you're just renting.
  3. It's time for me to learn Twitter. I've started; there will be more on that in future posts.
  4. I'm done with G+. Why should I trust Google to save my G+ content? That would be like going for date with a serial killer.
  5. I need to move my blogs to a service I'm paying for. (That won't be easy.)
  6. My components of a knowledge share solution post is simpler now.

I'm sure I'll come up with a few more.

Dapocalypse now: Google's day of infamy

I shared thousands of articles through Google Reader.

They were a part of my extended memory. I often searched that repository.

This evening they are gone.

I had expected bad news, but I didn't expect the entire shared story repository to vanish.

Yes, there's a JSON export. I will do it of course, but Google is not providing any tools to navigate or transform that data set. The export of data in a non-useable format is no export at all.

Dapocalypse now. Google, I want a divorce.

Update: The JSON export links aren't working for me.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

This is your life: Kiyoshi Tanimoto

Kiyoshi Tanimoto was a Christian minister who survived the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. My son was asked to write about his life.

In the course of research we came across a 1950s television program called "This is your life: Kiyoshi Tanimoto". The program included Reverend Tanimoto meeting the man who piloted the Enola Gay.

It starts with a realtime advertisement for cleaning products and cosmetics, though, mercifully, the sponsor omitted some later commercials. They did manage a nail commercial after the conclusion of the most intense part of the program. "Not a chip anywhere ... Hazel Bishop long lasting nail polish ...".

The word surreal was created to describe this program. 1950s America was both yesterday and a very long time ago.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

How Minneapolis went from bicycle bust to bicycle boom in 30 years

Great review of how Minneapolis became a bicycle town following the Dutch model of bike/car separation, with very encouraging news from St Paul ...

Behind the Bicycle Boom - JAY WALLJASPER

People across the country were surprised last year when Bicycling magazine named Minneapolis America’s “#1 Bike City” over Portland, Oregon, which had claimed the honor for many years....

... This year the city is adding 57 new miles of bikeways to the 127 miles already built. An additional 183 miles are planned over the next twenty years.  By 2020, almost every city resident will live within a mile of an off-street bikeway and within a half-mile of a bike lane, vows city transportation planner Donald Pfaum...

... it boasts arguably the nation’s finest network of off-street bicycle trails. It was chosen as one of four pilot projects (along with Marin County, California; Columbia, Missouri; and Sheboygan County, Wisconsin) for the federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, which aims to shift a share of commuters out of cars and onto bikes or foot...

... Minneapolis features two “ bike freeways,” that are the envy of bicyclists around the country. The Cedar Lake Trail, and the Midtown Greenway both connect to numerous other trails, creating an off-road network that reaches deep into St. Paul and surrounding suburbs. Intersections are infrequent along these routes, which boosts riders’ speed along with their sense of safety and comfort. In a good sign for the future of biking in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis engineers recently reversed a stop sign to give bikes priority over cars where the Midtown Greenway meets 5th Avenue South...

... While only a quarter of riders are women nationally, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports 37 percent in Minneapolis...

... Since the 1970s Dutch planners have separated bicyclists from motor vehicles on most arterial streets, with impressive results.  The rate of biking has doubled throughout the country, now accounting for 27 percent of all trips. Women make up 55 percent of two-wheel traffic and citizens over 55 ride in numbers slightly higher than the national average. Nearly every Dutch schoolyard is filled with kids’ bikes parked at racks and lampposts.
The Dutch also that as the number of riders rises, their safety increases.  Statistics in Minneapolis show the same results. Shaun Murphy, Non-Motorized Transportation Program Coordinator in the Public Works Department, notes that your chances of being in a car/bike crash in the city are 75 percent less than in 1993...

... Steve Elkins, Transportation Chair of the Metropolitan Council, highlighted his efforts as city council member in suburban Bloomington  to push the idea of Complete Streets--meaning that roadways should serve walkers and bikers as well as cars...

..City workers clear snow from the off-road bikeways just the same as streets, sometimes doing them first. Studded snow tires and breakthroughs in cold-weather clothing makes year-round biking easier than it looks, Clark said...

.. Local bicyclists would have howled at the idea of Minneapolis being named America’s best city 30 years ago. It was a frustrating and dangerous place to bike, crisscrossed by freeways and arterial streets that felt like freeways. Drivers were openly hostile to bike riders, some of them going the extra step to scare the daylights out of us as they roared past. Bike lanes were practically non-existent at that time....

I wager Portland cyclists are happy we took the crown. I suspect their officials were getting complacent. Maybe they'll win it back, but that will only motivate Minneapolis. It's the kind of battle nobody loses.

Really, Portland's not a natural bike town either. It's bloody icy and hilly in January. So the success of Minneapolis and Portland shows the power of the Dutch model of bicycling, amply championed by David Hembrow and Mark Wagenbuur.

Alas, though the distinction seems academic beyond Minnesota, I can't claim to live in the promised land of Minneapolis. I'm a St Paul resident, the older of the Twin Cities. We're not quite as advanced. So it was good to recognize how much Minneapolis has changed in 20 years. With the help of the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition, and the example of the younger Twin, we might get there yet.

Why does Apple suck at calendars?

Apple can produce decent software. There are, for example, some nice improvements in Lion. Lots of bad stuff too of course, but eventually we'll see 10.7.4 as a good OS. iWork is buggy and into heavy duty data bondage, but it shows some thought. iOS is elegant.

Calendars though - they are really bad at Calendars. 

There was a brief time when Apple did Calendars well. Ok, not Apple, but Claris - which has been in and and out of Apple over the years. Claris Organizer was pretty good. It was, I believe, during the Apple 2.0 era, when Jobs was gone.

During Apple 1.0 and Apple 3.0 though, when Jobs was around, every calendar app Apple did was unspeakably bad. iCloud sounds no better than MobileMe calendar -- and they were just bad. iCal for OS X is beyond miserable. iOS Calendar? Try setting a two week alarm so you get a birthday gift in the mail. Right. You can't.

I haven't read Jobs bio yet, but I've read the excerpts. My guess is the man hated, from the very depth of his soul, boundaries. Being told what he had to do when. I suspect the only way he ever made an appointment was because he was rich and powerful enough to have people whose entire mission in life was to manage his time.

I think that's why Apple sucks at Calendars.

Apple 3.0 was a reflection of Jobs. His virtues, and his defects.

Apple 4.0 is a different show.

Maybe they'll do better at Calendars.

I killed RSS

Ok. Ok!

I'll talk.

It's true. I killed her. Oh god, I swear ... it was an accident.

I didn't mean to do it. None of us did.

Of course I wasn't alone! You think I could have killed her all by myself? She was huge. Powerful! Millions of users. We all loved her. We loved her to death.

How? How did we do it?

It's obvious buddy. Staring you in the face. Just look. Look!

Ok, do I need to spell it out? I mean, how did you read this?

Yeah, I thought so.  Google Reader user eh? Yeah, the hard stuff. Jacking the info stream right to the cortex. RSS junkie you are.

You killed her too.

I mean, did you pay for this? No, you didn't. There's no way to pay. Free beer.

Did you read the ads? 

Yeah, trick question. There are no ads. At most you added a cookie. Worth a nano-dollar to someone.

You got the full feed ad free. You spent your time here instead of making someone money. You used Google Reader to steal money from Google.

Google doesn't like that. That's why G+ doesn't have an RSS feed.

Facebook doesn't like that. They turned personal page RSS feeds off a year or so ago.

Twitter ... Yeah, you get it. I see it in your face.

RSS was too good for this world.

That's why she had to die.

We loved her to death.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Clayton "innovators dilemma" Christensen: Apple will fail

Clayton Christensen, famed guru of innovation, predicting Apple's inevitable failure - in 2007. Emphases mine ...

Clayton Christensen's Innovation Brain

... Who or what do you think will disrupt Google (GOOG) or Apple (AAPL)? It's hard for me to see what will disrupt Google. I think they've got a pretty good run ahead of them. Chapters five and six of The Innovator's Solution describe how at the beginning phases of the industry, in order to play that game successfully you really need to have a proprietary, optimized, end-to-end architecture to your product.

Apple sure has that. That's why they've been successful. But just watch the [competitors'] advertisements that you hear for the ability to download music onto your mobile phone. Music on the mobile phone has to be downloaded in an open architecture way from Yahoo! Music or someplace else [other than iTunes]. Which means it's clunkier, not as good. Mobile phones don't have as much storage capacity, nor are their interfaces as intuitive [as iPods]. But for some folks, they're good enough, and the trajectories [of people using their phone as a medium for listening to music] just keep getting better and better.

So music on the mobile phone is going to disrupt the iPod? But Apple's just about to launch the iPhone. The iPhone is a sustaining technology relative to Nokia. In other words, Apple is leaping ahead on the sustaining curve [by building a better phone]. But the prediction of the theory would be that Apple won't succeed with the iPhone. They've launched an innovation that the existing players in the industry are heavily motivated to beat: It's not [truly] disruptive. History speaks pretty loudly on that, that the probability of success is going to be limited."

History is now hiding in a closet, afraid to show its face.

Years later, Christensen said - "There's just something different about those guys. They're freaks."

Exactly. Apple has been a freak. The corporation that crossed the speed and inventiveness of a private firm with the capitol and reach of a publicly traded corporation.

Now we're in the Apple 4.0 era. Without Jobs, perhaps Christensen will be right, and Apple will become a normal dismal failure. Or maybe Apple's corporate structure, and its training programs, will be Jobs last and greatest innovation. Apple 4.0 won't be Jobs Apple, but if it manages to be merely abnormal it may be the cure for the ailing American corporation.

Credit to the base: The Mormon, the Minority and the Maroon

The GOP is morally and intellectually bankrupt -- and they're likely to get another chance to finish off America.

This is, of course, the fault of the GOP voter. They deserve blame for that. History will not be kind to them.

History should give them some credit though, maybe even let them out of purgatory a bit early.

I mean, look at the leaders.

A black man is leading in the (vote free) polling. This isn't the same getting real votes but it's something. I wouldn't have predicted older white male GOP voters would give the man an audience. Sure he's balm for their guilt -- but the mere fact that they feel guilt is impressive.

Meanwhile, the man pundits favor to win isn't a Christian [1]. Goldberg said it well - Romney is culturally Christian, theologically not. Yes, GOP voters are having trouble with this, and with his total lack of credibility, but even so Romney is always close to the lead. I didn't think GOP voters would tolerate a heretical President.

Then there's the maroon. Perry is what I expected, a dimmer version of George Bush. I think he'll be the nominee; in the end Romney won't be theologically acceptable.

I might be wrong though. The GOP base is surprising me. They have abysmal judgment, but in a strange way their bad choices are a good sign.

[1] To me Mormonism seems as good (or bad) as most religions. I think people should be more worried that Romney is a fan of Battlefield Earth.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Facebook makes no sense any more

Facebook is getting seriously weird.

Ok, I'm not a FB expert. On the other hand I've created and managed four different Pages and I'm a regular reader. It's true I don't use FB apps, but I'm not a total FB newbie.

Even so, I don't get it.

I'm genuinely interested in tracking the activities of various orgs that use Facebook Pages -- but with the newest UI tweak they're not showing up. They appear in a scrolling layout on the right side that's difficult to navigate, and the main page is limited to a very few recent posts. Facebook is beginning to remind me of Netflix, another company that thought it knew what I wanted. (I feel evil joy every time Netflix's share price drops another 30%.)

The good news is that Pages have RSS feeds. So I could simply start following them with Google Reader, and "unlike" the Pages so FB just shows my friend's activity.

Except that Google Reader isn't in the best of shape either...

Update: Well, that was quick. My usual FB page behavior is back; I can scroll to past pages. I wonder if I was seeing a new UI experiment or a service outage. In any event I have moved 14 Pages I followed into Google Reader and I've "Unliked" them. Their output is a much better fit to GR than to FB, and now I can share and manage what I learn outside of the FP straightjacket. One page had an invalid RSS feed, no idea why.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Inflation isn't what it used to be (cosmologic version)

I barely got my head around the inflationary universe, and it's already passe.

Sean Carroll starts us off with his debut article in Discover -- Welcome to the Multiverse. That's just a warmup though, his blog digs a lot deeper.  ...

The Eternally Existing, Self-Reproducing, Frequently Puzzling Inflationary Universe | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

... it is crucial to note that in conventional non-inflationary cosmology, our current observable universe was about a centimeter across at the Planck time. That’s a huge size by particle physics standards. In inflation, by contrast, the whole universe could have fit into a Planck volume, 10-33 centimeters across, much tinier indeed...

... “essentially all” — models of inflation lead to the prediction that inflation never completely ends. ... inflation will end in some places, but in other places it keeps going. Where it keeps going, space expands at a fantastic rate. In some parts of that region, inflation eventually ends, but in others it keeps going. And that process continues forever, with some part of the universe perpetually undergoing inflation. That’s how the multiverse gets off the ground — we’re left with a chaotic jumble consisting of numerous “pocket universes” separated by regions of inflating spacetime...

... thinking about black hole entropy has led physicists to propose something called “horizon complementarity” — the idea that one observer can’t sensibly talk about things that are happening outside their horizon. When applied to cosmology, this means we should think locally: talk about one or another pocket universe, but not all of them at the same time. In a very real sense, the implication of complementarity is that things outside our horizon aren’t actually real — all that exists, from our point of view, are degrees of freedom inside the horizon, and on the horizon itself....

Sean ends by sending us back to read a 2007 article than runs through stories of pre-inflationary creation ... How Did the Universe Start? (April 2007)

That's a lot to digest, but the very next day Sean features a rant by Tom Banks, a fierce physicist who must put coffee in his Ritalin ...

Guest Post: Tom Banks Contra Eternal Inflation | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine

A lot of research in high energy theory has been devoted to the topic of eternal inflation. More and more, over the last few years, I’ve come to regard this as an enormous waste of intellectual resources and I’ve chosen Cosmic Variance as a very public way to make my objections to this theoretical mistake clear...

... We also discussed a solution to Einstein’s equations which was a black hole with de Sitter interior embedded in this homogeneous isotropic cosmology. In the paper referred to above, we have found an exact quantum model, satisfying all the consistency conditions of HST, which corresponds to that solution. There is a one parameter family of models corresponding to the choice of dS c.c. We can also find approximate solutions of the consistency conditions corresponding to two or more such black holes, separated by a large distance...

... So we can construct models in which there are many values of the c.c. depending on which black hole interior one resides in. Each mini dS universe will be stable, unless it collides with another...

I didn't get much out of Tom Banks essay -- it's aimed at someone who knows something. I'm left with a vague sense that we're on the wrong side of a black hole and we know it as our universe. Of course since we have black holes in our universe, it's presumably holes all the way down. Maybe we're computational ghosts replaying whatever fell in from the other side.

Fortunately I've read Greg Egan's Permutation City so this feels pretty comfortable.

Carroll thinks we'll get this figured out sometime in the next 30 years or so. I hope I live to see it.

Setting aside the "simulation" thesis for the moment, and inspired by Egan but unconstrained by knowledge or data, I'll make a guess as to how it will all turn out. For the fun of it, because, after all, this is my blog.

I think the infinities will go away and that everything everywhere will all sum to zero.

I think when this theory is explained to someone like me, physicists will use the analogy of a granite cube 3 meters on a side. They'll say that in this cube is every shape and form there could ever be, all atop one another, waiting to be revealed by the sculptor.

Or they'll show how two sounds can produce silence, and tell us that in silence is every sound, every word, every signal and thought that could ever be. All at once.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Renewing a US Passport: 2011 edition

With 3 adopted kids including two born overseas and different parental last names [1], we suffer when it's time to renew our passports. For reference, here's the procedure we follow as of Nov 2011. Average adults might try renewal by mail, but I don't trust that process.

Note government web sites are usually outsourced to contractors. Every time a contract changes all the links break. You'll usually need to search on key words to find current links.


Recommendations and notes

  • Use a regional passport center or other dedicated Passport service. Don't use anywhere else for photographs, don't use the Post Office to renew unless you have to. This is not well documented. If you go to the State Department site you'll find a short list of regional centers. However, we use a local Passport Center that's not on the list: Roseville, MN - Passport Services. We know of that center because I saw it when renewing a driver's license. It is walk in only, there doesn't seem to be a way to reserve an appointment. We know they do photos because we saw them do it. Yes, this is crazy.
  • Always pay the expedited service fee, you need it to use the regional passport center anyway. Yes, it's expensive.
  • When you have  current passport you can use it as proof of citizenship and identity. So never let your passport lapse.
  • If renewing a child and parent's passport, do them both in person at the same time and place or else you'll run into catch 22 problems.
  • When you go to renew bring checkbook, VISA and Cash. You never know what you'll need.
  • Print out the renewal forms and complete them beforehand. If you read the inept State department web site carefully you'll realize that it's not clear if you need DS-11 or DS-82 for an adult renewal. Print them out and complete both in black ink. Minors need DS-11.
  • When renewing an adopted minor's passport bring everything you can think of, not limited to:
    • Proof of citizenship: Mercifully, an undamaged US passport will qualify, probably even a not-current passport.
    • Driver's licenses: Just in case
    • Proof of marriage :(esp. if Parents last names differ [1])
    • Adoption documents (evidence of relationship)
    • Birth certificates (evidence of relationship)
    • Adoption related citizenship documents (in theory only need for initial passport)
    • Bring originals and bring photocopies of everything following the strict photocopy rules
  • When applying in person you must be patient, reasonably but not excessively friendly, and compliant.
  • Bring books for the kids to read, you can't use electronic devices at passport sites.
  • Show up at an off-time of day, but not a time when everyone is on break.
  • Kids will usually have to miss school to get a passport renewed.
  • Even with expedited service, assume a two month turnaround. During that time you won't have a passport.

[1] America really, really, really wants women to adopt the last name of their husband. This is not changing.

See also:

Does anyone seriously test Apple's iWork products?

I've been using Apple's Pages and Keynote for a few modest projects.

They're functional span is very good and the price is excellent.

Quality though, that's a problem. Once you move outside of the basic functionality there are big unfixed bugs and half built solutions.

I'm somewhat used to this from Apple. Their software quality is only as good as it has to be -- and their customers are notoriously compliant. (Though years of poor quality Aperture releases probably cost Apple the professional photography market.)

I'm used to Apple's poor quality software, but I don't like it.

We're into the Apple 4.0 era now. There are reasons to expect Apple's elegance and share price to decline. i'm good with that. I'd trade 20% of Apple's elegance for better quality products.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Straight and Crooked Thinking - Wikipedia's remarkable catalog of rhetorical devices and cognitive errors

I reader recently asked me to resolve a bad link in a post I wrote 7 years ago about the book "Straight and Crooked Thinking'.. I had no memory of the original, but my personal Google Custom Search found it in seconds.

I found the original article in what I suspect is a modern splog. I didn't want to give that any link love, but I will grant that the splog is the only remnant of the original work.

Instead I found a terrific synopsis of rhetorical devices in a Wikipedia reference: Straight and Crooked Thinking. From that article there are links to memory and cognitive biases. It's altogether a true Wikipedia tour de force.

Beyond that, the 1953 edition of the book is available as a well done PDF. I've added it to iBook for later reading.

I love the web.

An American toaster

Five years ago, when China's manufacturing quality was at its worst, I used the crummy toaster crisis as a missing-middle example. It was easy then to find cheap goods that were crummy, and with difficulty one might find luxury or industrial goods that might be reliable, but the market for quality goods at a reasonable price had evaporated.

A cheap toaster might cost $25, but a $75 toaster wasn't any better.

Since then, a few things have changed. With the Lesser depression Americans started to pay attention to how long things lasted. China's own internal markets have, I suspect, become more demanding. I think the quality of manufactured goods is better than it used to be.

About two years ago a small repair business started selling a Wide-Slot Automatic Pop up Toaster Made in the U.S.A. for about $350. Now it's down to $265 for an "introductory price". Clearly, this is a luxury good purchase.

Still, the price is coming down. Perhaps a large scale manufacturer will pick it up, particularly as China's currency (mercifully) appreciates against the US dollar. Perhaps one day a $150 US made toaster will sell as a luxury good in China, and a quality good in the US.

In fifty years, what will our sins be?

In my early years white male heterosexual superiority was pretty much hardwired into my culture. I grew up in Quebec, so in my earliest pre-engagement years add the local theocracy of the Catholic church.

Mental illness, including schizophrenia, was a shameful sin. Hitting children was normal and even encouraged. There were few laws protecting domestic animals. There were almost no environmental protections. Children and adults with cognitive disorders were scorned and neglected. Physical disabilities were shameful; there were few accommodations for disability.

Our life then had a lot in common with China today.

Not all of these cultural attitudes are fully condemned, but that time is coming.

So what are the candidates for condemnation in 50 years? Gus Mueller, commenting on a WaPo article, suggests massive meat consumption and cannabis prohibition.

I am sure Gus is wrong about cannabis prohibition. Even now we don't condemn the ideal of alcohol prohibition; many aboriginal communities around the world still enforce alcohol restrictions and we don't condemn them. We consider American Prohibition quixotic, but not evil.

My list is not far from the WaPo article. Here's my set:

  • Our definition and punishment of crime, particularly in the context of diminished capacity.
  • Our tolerance of poverty, both local and global.
  • Our wastefulness.
  • Our tolerance of political corruption.
  • Our failure to create a carbon tax.
  • The use of semi-sentient animals as meat. (WaPo just mentions industrial food production. I think the condemnation will be deeper.)
  • Our failure to confront the responsibilities and risks associated with the creation of artificial sentience. (Depending on how things turn out, this might be celebrated by our heirs.)

The WaPo article mentions our isolation of the elderly. I don't think so; I think that will be seen more as a tragedy than a sin. This is really about the modern mismatch between physical and cognitive lifespan.

The article is accompanied by a poll with this ranking as of 5800 votes:

  • Environment
  • Food production
  • Prison system
  • Isolation of the elderly.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Google Reader: This is going to hurt

Let's get the good news out of the way.

Google has stepped back from their Buzz/G+ nymwar policy. Google will support pseudonyms. So they listened after all.

More good news. As promised, Google Reader lives.

That's enough of the good news. Don't want to overdose.

The bad news is that Google will be ripping out a lot of GR in favor of G+, even though G+ lacks a mechanism for subscribing to aspects of a person's stream. Much of the functionality I love, such as the feed for GR shares, the web page created from GR shares and notes, the ability to follow my trusted curators shares -- it's all at risk. In my case, tens of thousands of annotations, a vast amount of Cloud data, is at risk., by far my most heavily used iPhone app, is at risk.

The worst news is that Google is giving us 1 week's warning. It's almost as though they want to get this over with before they get a nymwar level of feedback.

Happily, we bereaved GR users are not alone. There are 357 comments on Alan Green's G+ announcement, and the last few hundred are a tad ... unhappy. Please feel free to add your comments one way or another.

My primary comment is that Google needs to stop and think - carefully. Sure, there aren't many GR power users. What we lack in numbers, however, we more than make up in geekery. We are uber-geeks and/or journalists, and we have a long memory. Apple can blow away data, but we don't mind. We never trusted them with our data. Google though, Google's not Apple. We expect different failures from Google.

There's a tsunami of hurt building in the obscure little GR community. We may be small Google, but we're rabid little buggers. E.D. Kain, Sarah Perez, Skeptic Geek, Jesse Stay, Incidental Economist, Martin Steiger, Brett Keller, me... We're coming out of the woodwork.

There is a right way to fix GR. That would be to clean up and fill out the current feature set, and replace Reader's dead Buzz functionality with similar G+ functionality. Offer us the option to share via G+ in addition to GR -- assuming G+ gets its interest streams working.

Google's making the same kind of mistake they made with the nymwars. That one they're fixing. Maybe they'll fix this one too.

So we're gonna yell. One week isn't much, but it may be enough time to get Alan Steel and his colleagues to put the brakes on. Stop, then think.

Update: My companion G+ stream post (restricted).

Update 10/21/11: There's a petition expressing user concerns about Google's plan.


The Atlantic has a sure fire winner online. Kate Bolick's All the Single Ladies follows the formula - single woman in New York, romantic life, no true love, aging now, allegedly happy single. Every magazine can do it once a year, usually in the fall.

I skimmed this one. Can't help it, I get the paper rag though it often annoys. It's my way of saying thank you to Fallows and TNC.

These articles feel sad to me; the authors protest too much. I hope it's just part of the formula, the adult equivalent of the dead mothers of Disney orphans. Something to pluck the strings and get the hits. We all need to work.

There's a deeper theme to play with though, one Bolick wisely avoids. The vast majority of humans, from nameless peasant to feudal king, have had short lives of abundant suffering and few choices. Bolick has, by their standards, vast wealth, luxury and choice. Me too and probably you, we're the lucky ones.

It's relative though, our active lives aren't much longer than the life of a Roman citizen. We have many more choices, but roughly the same number of prime years to spend them. We have to leave a lot of roads untraveled.

If our lifespan were matched to our choices, we'd be 35 for a hundred years. It still wouldn't be enough of course.

Me, I say there's a truck waiting on every one of those roads. Step off the curb one day, and meet the truck. So this road really is the best of all ...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The iPhone - Android cost difference is getting large

A colleague of mine bought a $200 unlocked Android phone made by Acer. He's pairing it with an AT&T paygo plan using an automated purchase option that effectively costs him about $200-300 a year total for some voice and a modest amount of 3G data. Of course in many locations he's using WiFi.

So his total two year smartphone cost is on the order of $700.

A minimal iPhone plan, assuming purchase of the 4G without jailbreaking, would be perhaps $1,800 with all the fees and taxes of non-paygo plans.

That's an $1,100 gap.

The iPhone 4 (much less the 4S) is much better than his Acer phone - and iOS is mostly better than Android [1]. I'll count that as a $300 offset against that $1,100 gap.

That leaves an $800 value gap and an $1,100 gross gap. This is not sustainable. Apple's brand isn't worth a value gap that large.

I'm awfully glad Android is out there. As Android captures more of the geek market, and as the cost of Android data falls, there will be enormous pressure on the cost of iPhone plans.

[1] However Calendar/Contact/document functionality with iOS 5/iCloud is much worse than Android/Google Apps.

Update: Lots of great comments on this post. I hope I get to do a f/u post, but in the meantime ...
  • Apple missed analyst expectations today... "Net income in the fiscal fourth quarter was $6.62 billion, or $7.05 per share ... Analysts ... were expecting $7.28 per share... iPhone sales were up 21 percent from last year at 17.1 million ... Analysts, however, were hoping for 20 million". There are lots of good reasons for this expectations gap, but it is consistent with price pressure.
  • I'm only writing about the US. The US Apple Store doesn't yet sell an unlocked iPhone 4S, but it sells an unlocked iPhone 4 for $650. Unfortunately, it's not clear that US users can use it with a PayGo data plan, or even that AT&T officially allows it to be used as a voice-only phone. So using an unlocked iPhone might increase the price gap (unless you can live with T-mobile's limited service area.)
  • It's easy to forget that in the US the purchase price of a phone is a fraction of the cost. The real basis is the costs of ownership over two years. That's why I don't compare unlocked phone purchase costs but compare phone and service. There are a lot of odd and disturbing rules about how and where iPhones can be used.
  • I think the Acer phone is probably more like an bizarro 3GS than a 4, so I'm overstating the value gap by comparing it to a 4.
Apple can obviously close the price gap significantly, but that will impact their margins and, eventually, their share price. The good news for families like mine (five iPhone devices) is that our costs are likely to fall. (It's good for us if Apple's stock price falls!)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Limbaugh defends Satan's army

If Satan had an army, it would be the Lord's Resistance Army.

Rush Limbaugh knows that Obama doesn't like the LRA.

So Limbaugh likes the Lord's Resistance Army. They are, after all, called the LORD's resistance army.

Limbaugh has not merely jumped the shark and nuked the fridge. We need a new name for the domains he's visiting now. Snorted the shark?

Friday, October 14, 2011

What if we are measuring economic output incorrectly?

Imagine that your compass was 20 degrees out of alignment.

Imagine you didn't know that.

Good luck finding the North pole.

Now imagine life if our economic compass were 20 degrees off.

That's what Ezra Klein and Uwe Reinhardt are suggesting in two coincidentally synchronous articles ...

Ezra is responding to a NEJM report on the economic impact of RomneyCare (Massachusetts' health care reform, the template for ObamaCare):

Health care and jobs: Mixed news from Massachusetts - Ezra Klein - The Washington Post

... On the surface, the NEJM study looks to be great news for Massachusetts: health care jobs in the state have grown much faster than in the rest of the country since its reform law passed...

... But the study actually isn’t good news when you look into what type of health jobs propelled this strong growth. Most of it, the study authors conclude, came from an increase in administrative positions, jobs like billing specialists and office support staff. It’s quite likely that more people with health insurance mean more resources necessary to bill insurance companies and administer the business of health care.

An increase in those kind of jobs is great for employment. But it’s not so great for health care costs. It’s part of the reason that American doctors have administrative costs four times higher than their Canadian counterparts. It likely contributes to growing health care costs that have eaten up nearly a decade worth of increased earnings....

Ezra doesn't make the connection directly, but in the traditional model of measuring GDP this increase in administrative activity is economic growth.

Let that sink in a bit.

Now read Reinhardt (emphases mine)...

Uwe E. Reinhardt: Make-Work and the G.D.P. -

... Suppose some evening a group of bored and mischievous teenagers slash tires on a number of cars in the parking lot of a shopping center. Distraught car owners call sundry nearby garages to send someone to fix the damage on the spot or tow the cars in for repairs. That work is speedily done, and the cars are ready for use again. The car owners pay the garage owners sizable repair bills.

This fictitious event leads to a number of questions:

1. Did the garages deliver value to the car owners?
2. Was gross domestic product increased or decreased?
3. Were the car owners better off, after paying the repair bill?

My answer to the first question is yes and to the second yes, as well, unless the garages had to give up other jobs with revenue equal to or greater than what they earn coming to the car owners’ rescue. To the third question, my answer is, it depends....

... In many instances, Person (or Enterprise) A delivers great value to Person (or Enterprise) B to extract the latter from a situation into which B should not have been put in the first place. We count in G.D.P. the value added by the extrication but do not detract the value destroyed by being driven into a precarious situation.

... Now think about the almost incomprehensible tax code that Congress has imposed. Think of it as a disaster of human making. To cope with it, individuals and businesses hire legions of lawyers and accountants who have deployed their human capital to understanding this bewildering code. These tax experts work hard and often brilliantly to shield their clients from taxes, usually achieving tax savings that are multiples of what they charge for their services...

... In many ways, our health care system mirrors our tax code — especially in its financing and health insurance facets. These can be made so complex and have been made so complex in the health care system in the United States that many decision makers in health care — patients, physicians, hospitals, employers and so on — need in-house or external consultants to find their way through the maze.

.. An academic health center may have a dozen or two dozen employees devoted to compliance. Such a center may employ several hundred billing clerks to cope with the myriad of private health insurance plans and policies, each with its own coverage, nomenclature and payment rules and requirements for prior authorizations...

... At Yale University I had the privilege of sitting in the classroom of the lateJames Tobin, an early Nobel laureate in economics and one of our profession’s greats. He distinguished between “enjoyable” and “nonenjoyable” G.D.P., with the latter including military spending or other “value added” from coping with either externally inflicted or self-inflicted damage done to our society. I often think of our revered professor when I contemplate the composition of this country’s G.D.P.

More than twenty years ago it occurred to me that different economic activities had different secondary multipliers. My focus was on the multiplier effect of military vs non-military activity. I was so impressed by my cleverness I wrote a letter on it to, I think, Time magazine. Of course it vanished, and subsequently I thought my "insight" was trivially obvious.

Maybe I shouldn't have given up so easily.

What Reindhardt describes is an aspect of the increasingly AI mediated "complexity wars". This is vast economic activity that is both destructive and creative.

We build castles and we tear them down.

We count this as economic activity.

What would our GDP per person growth look like over the past thirty years of innovation stagnation if we stripped out this "nonenjoyable" GDP activity?

Might explain a few things.

This is important.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Counterfeit Apple goods on Amazon - an interesting lack of enforcement

Amazon is selling a 45watt MacBook Air power supply for $20 less than Apple. The title is interesting: Genuine Apple 45W MagSafe Power Adapter for MacBook Air A1244.

Why is the title interesting? Because of the word "genuine". Remember the old wisdom - "people's republics" are always tyrannies. Products that claim to be "genuine" often are not.

This particular product could be genuine. Not so the "apple" cables sold on Amazon for $2 instead of $20.

There's a lot of counterfeit Apple gear for sale on Amazon.

Amazon is increasingly a competitor with Apple.

I'm sure those two facts are not related.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Democracy in crisis: Not all votes are equal

This surprised me:

Notes on income inequality - Ezra Klein - The Washington Post

... Martin Gilens, a political scientist at Princeton University, has been collecting the results of nearly 2,000 survey questions reaching back to the 1980s, looking for evidence that when opinions change, so too does policy. And he found it—but only for the rich. Policy changes with majority support didn’t become law except when that majority support included voters at the top of the income distribution. When the opinions of the poor diverged from the opinions of the rich, the opinions of the poor did not appear to matter. If 90 percent of the poor supported a policy change, its chances of passage were no better than if 10 percent of the poor supported it...

American democracy is in poor health.

Apple 4.0 - take 2

I received some good comments on yesterday's Apple 4.0 post. They were interesting enough I'll address them in a f/u post.

Andrew M took exception to my claim that Apple's historically lackluster quality was improving. I admit, it's a mixed bag.

On the one hand, the build quality on my MacBook Air is excellent. Unlike my iBook and MacBook I don't expect the hinges to fail, and unlike my MacBook I don't expect the enclosure to begin disintegrating. On the other hand several of our iPhones have had flaky home buttons, and Apple's 2nd generation iPhone sync cables are crummy. I gave Lion 1.0 (10.7.0) credit for being better than I'd expected, but I expected a disaster. Many feel Lion is a disaster, with a poorly designed save/save as implementation, problematic app restart behaviors, and a nearly crippled Safari. MobileMe sync has been mangling my contacts, and today Apple server failures have been bricking iPhones.

I concede the point. Apple has shown quality improvements in some areas, and regressed in others. Quality is still below what we deserve. I am still hopeful Cook and Apple 4.0 will put more weight on quality than Apple 3.0 did.

Jeffrey Dutky said I didn't give Apple enough credit for moving to industry standard interfaces like Thunderbolt. At first thought I agreed with him, but then I realized physical connectors like the iPod cable are going away. Only power connectors are definitively physical, and only Apple sells them for Apple laptops.

Apple's device connectors now are wireless protocols supporting things like AirPlay and AirDrop. I believe both are proprietary. I hope Apple 4.0 will be open these types of connections, and enhance data freedom for all Apple applications.

Apple 4.0

Steve M was* a master Healer and Teacher at the Upper Peninsula Health Education Corporation (UPHEC), but his true love was HyperCard. He should have been a programmer.

One of Steve's jobs was to civilize an obnoxious (think Jobs sans glamour, sans genius) young physician. The other was to convert me to the way of the Mac.

That was 1989, in the days of Apple 2.0. Steve Jobs had been gone for four years.

It wasn't hard to convert me. In those days Microsoft was taking over the world, but their Intel products pretty much sucked. Their Mac products, Word and Excel in particular, were far better than their Windows equivalents.

The Mac had a rich range of software, like More 3.0. The Mac cost about 20-30% more than roughly similar PC hardware, but Mac hardware and software quality was excellent (no viruses then, so security was not an issue). Apple networking was a joy to configure, though the cracks were starting to show. Apple networks didn't seem to scale well.

I stayed with Macs during my Informatics fellowship - until 1997. By then, twelve years after Jobs had left Apple, they weren't obviously better than the Wintel alternatives. Apple's OS 7 had terrible trouble with TCP/IP; it was even worse on the web than Windows 95. Windows 2000** was better than MacOS classic and Dell hardware was robust.

It took twelve years for post-Jobs Apple to become as weak as the competition. We were a Windows household from about 1997 to @2003, when I bought a G3 iBook. By then Apple was back. The Apple 3 recovery took about 5 years.

Now we're in the Apple 4.0 era. I suspect it began about 2010.

Apple 4.0 will behave like a publicly traded corporation (PTC), instead of the freakish anomaly it has been. It can't be Apple 3.0. On the other hand, I'm hopeful that Jobs last invention will turn out to be a new way to run a corporation; a reinvention of Sloan's GM design. It's clear that this is what he's been aiming at over the past few years. I stopped underestimating Jobs years ago. If anyone can fix the dysfunctional PTC, it would be Jobs.

Apple 4.0 won't have the glamour of 3.0. It may, however, do some things better. I believe Apple's product quality has been improving over the past two years. They're beginning to approach the quality of early Apple 2.0. Apple 4 may start to play better with others, even begin to support standards for information sharing instead of Jobs preference for data lock and proprietary connectors.

Apple 4.0 will have less art, less elegance, less glamour -- but it might have more engineering. Less exciting, but better for me.

I'm optimistic.
* Still a great Healer, but our UPHEC passed on. Steve isn't teaching these days.
** Windows 2000 was better than XP and Vista and Windows 7, but that's another story. Microsoft's post 2000 fall was much more dramatic than the slow decay of Apple 2.0.

Update 10/12/11: I respond to comments on quality and connectors in a f/u post.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Netflix train wreck

Emphases mine:
Netflix Abandons Plan to Rent DVDs on Qwikster -

...We underestimated the appeal of the single web site and a single service,” Steve Swasey, a Netflix spokesman, said in a telephone interview. He quickly added: “We greatly underestimated it."...
So we weren't the only family to dump streaming in favor of DVD, while looking for any alternative to the Netflix we'd come to despise.

What an astounding debacle. It's time for Hastings to go.

Good news for the USPS.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Siri, the Friendly AI

The iPhone 4S video shows a young runner asking Siri to rearrange this schedule. It doesn't show him running into the path of another Siri user driving his convertible.

Siri is the iPhone AI that understands how your phone works and, in theory, understands a domain constrained form of natural language. It has a long AI legacy; it's a spinoff from SRI Artificial Intelligence Center and the DARPA CALO project.

When Siri needs to know about the world it talks with Wolfram Alpha. That's where the story becomes a Jobsian fusion of the personal and the technical, and Siri's backstory becomes a bit ... unbelievable.

Siri was launched as the unchallenged king of technology lay dying. The Wolfram part of Siri began when Jobs was in exile ...

Wolfram Blog : Steve Jobs: A Few Memories

I first met Steve Jobs in 1987, when he was quietly building his first NeXT computer, and I was quietly building the first version of Mathematica. A mutual friend had made the introduction, and Steve Jobs wasted no time in saying that he was planning to make the definitive computer for higher education, and he wanted Mathematica to be part of it...

Over the months after our first meeting, I had all sorts of interactions with Steve aboutMathematica. Actually, it wasn’t yet called Mathematica then, and one of the big topics of discussion was what it should be called. At first it had been Omega (yes, like Alpha) and later PolyMath. Steve thought those were lousy names. I gave him lists of names I’d considered, and pressed him for his suggestions. For a while he wouldn’t suggest anything. But then one day he said to me: “You should call it Mathematica”...

... In June 1988 we were ready to release Mathematica. But NeXT had not yet released its computer, Steve Jobs was rarely seen in public, and speculation about what NeXT was up to had become quite intense. So when Steve Jobs agreed that he would appear at our product announcement, it was a huge thing for us.

He gave a lovely talk, discussing how he expected more and more fields to become computational, and to need the services of algorithms and of Mathematica. It was a very clean statement of a vision which has indeed worked out as he predicted....

A while later, the NeXT was duly released, and a copy of Mathematica was bundled with every computer...

... I think Mathematica may hold the distinction of having been the only major software system available at launch on every single computer that Steve Jobs created since 1988. Of course, that’s often led to highly secretive emergency Mathematica porting projects—culminating a couple of times in Theo Gray demoing the results in Steve Jobs’s keynote speeches.

... tragically, his greatest contribution to my latest life project—Wolfram|Alpha—happened just yesterday: the announcement that Wolfram|Alpha will be used in Siri on the iPhone 4S...

Siri's backstory is a good example of how you can distinguish truth from quality literature. Literature is more believable.

Siri isn't new of course. We've been in the post-AI world since Google displaced Alta Vista in the 1990s. Probably longer.

What's new is a classic Jobs move; the last Jobs move made during his lifetime. It's usually forgotten that Apple did not invent the MP3 player. They were quite late to the market they transformed. Similarly, but on a bigger and longer scale, personalized AIs have been with us for years.  AskJeeves was doing (feeble) natural language queries in the 1990s. So Siri is not the first.

She probably won't even work that well a while. Many of Apple's keynote foci take years to truly work (iChat, Facetime, etc). Eventually though, Siri will work. She and her kin will engage in the complexity wars humans can't manage, perhaps including our options bets. Because history can't resist a story, Siri will be remembered as the first of her kind.

Even her children will see it that way.

Update 10/12/11: Wolfram did a keynote address on 9/26 in which he hinted at the Siri connection to Wolfram Alpha: "It feels like Mathematica is really coming of age. It’s in just the right place at the right time. And it’s making possible some fundamentally new and profoundly powerful things. Like Wolfram|Alpha, and CDF, and yet other things that we’ll have coming over the next year." The address gives some insight into the world of the ubiquitous AI. (No real hits on that string as of 10/12/11. That will change.)

OWS Recruiting poster by Hargrave Yachts

Via G+. An obvious Occupy Wall Street recruitment poster has been cleverly planted in Yachts International Magazine as a (flash) ad for a Hargrave mega yacht.
Since I wonder how long the ad will actually last online, here's a screenshot and some copy ...

Screen shot 2011 10 09 at 5 20 14 PM

"We used to sell yachts as luxury items, in todays' world they're really a necessity.

Years ago buying .. the 136' Hargrave "DREAMER" ... was ... a once in a lifetime reward for those of you who made sacrifices ...

... Today things have changed ... successful people have now become the target of every two bit politician from the White House on down ...

... being on the water has become a necessity for today's entrepreneur ... a refuge where they can leave the inanity of today's world ..."

On the water, far away from the peasants.

Diabolically clever OWS. I'd never have figured Hargrave as one of your covert operations.

[Note: By a freak accident I managed to completely obliterate this post, but I was able to restore it.]

Why rationalists like OWS

Philosophically I'm closer to OWS than to the Tea Party. In terms of policy, I'm reluctantly closer to Clinton/Gore than to anarcho-socialism.

So why am I an OWS supporter?

I think I can put it into a picture like this ... [1]

AmericanVolume 2

The Y axis is volume in the American discourse; that's what enables political "courage". The X axis represent a range of governing policies. The blue box is the limits of the rational -- the range of policies that are most likely to lead to a relatively long and happy life for human civilization, democracy, and us.

Obama is to the left of that range (I'm deliberately flipping this with the conventional left/right picture of American politics.).

In the middle is GDKK - Gordon (hey, it's my blog), DeLong, Klein and Krugman -- in rough alignment with my TP to OWS spectrum.

At the right is Occupy Wall Street.

Without OWS the rationalists are at the far right of this X axis, and the "middle" of the American discussion is outside the bounds of reason. In this context a Carbon tax, for example, is inconceivably radical.

With a healthy OWS movement the volume shifts.

I think that will help.

[1] Google's drawing tool app is amazing. It's the best part of the Google Apps suite at the moment, which is saying quite a bit.

See also:

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Comparing carriers and networks for iPhone owners: AT&T, Verizon and Sprint

Reading this Marco Arment post, I wonder if I should have gotten Emily the 64GB model. I didn't think about what it meant to capture HD video. More than a phone discussion though, it's a carrier comparison. There's a lot I didn't know (emphases mine) ...

Which iPhone 4S should I get? –

... Under ideal conditions, AT&T has the best data speeds and Verizon has the best voice quality, but almost nowhere actually provides ideal conditions, so it really depends on which carrier sucks the least in your area.

All three carriers’ plans are priced in the same ballpark.

People often say that Verizon covers fringe areas better, but in my experience, AT&T is comparable — sometimes one works and the other doesn’t, but neither more often than the other.

I don’t have much experience with Sprint, but the little I’ve had suggests that it doesn’t quite provide the coverage and strength that Verizon and AT&T do. Sprint phones can roam on Verizon’s network if there’s absolutely no Sprint signal, but in practice, that doesn’t happen often, and the phones will prefer a weak Sprint signal to a strong Verizon signal.

Sprint is the only carrier offering “unlimited” data.

Verizon messes with your data uncomfortably — they recompress JPEGs to save bandwidth, and they watch the sites you visit to collect (and presumably sell) the aggregate stats.

... any iPhone 4S you buy in the U.S. with a contract at a subsidized price (less than $649) is still carrier-locked. You can’t change carriers later...

The carrier lock really sucks. Even after you've paid your $800 or so for your $650 phone, it's still carrier locked. Of course it's two years old by then, but Emiiy's 2 yo 3GS still works real fine. Yet another reason that American geeks hate mobile phone companies.

If you're trying to find out which carriers work in your area, my friend Robert M recommends Antenna Search as a guide to your local towers. I discovered my home is in an area with relatively few antennae -- except for 3 immediately nearby. We don't have coverage problems.

Agriculture and population: which came first?

We're used to thinking that human population (and human misery) boomed when we switched to agriculture. Now it appears that a post-glacial population boom may have inspired agriculture ...

Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog: Major population expansion in mtDNA of East Asians

... the further analysis showed that the population expansion in East Asia started at 13 kya and lasted until 4 kya. The results suggest that the population growth in East Asia constituted a need for the introduction of agriculture and might be one of the driving forces that led to the further development of agriculture...

The crash of 08: an 8.9% collapse in GDP

The Great Recession, or, as I prefer, the Lesser Depression, included one of the worst quarters in American history ...

Could this time have been different? - Ezra Klein - The Washington Post

... The Bureau of Economic Analysis, the agency charged with measuring the size and growth of the U.S. economy, initially projected that the economy shrank at an annual rate of 3.8 percent in the last quarter of 2008. Months later, the bureau almost doubled that estimate, saying the number was 6.2 percent. Then it was revised to 6.3 percent. But it wasn’t until this year that the actual number was revealed: 8.9 percent. That makes it one of the worst quarters in American history....

The M word

We commies have a problem.

We are dependent on the money of corporations and the votes of the masses. It's not our only problem. We have to hold together a coalition across tribe and culture.

Since they're dedicated to the end of civilization, it's a good thing the GOP has problems too. Gopers have to sign up for a set of mandatory untruths on science, history and economics for example. This makes it hard for the GOP to retain non-sociopathic rationals, much less secular humanists.

That's not their big problem though. Their big problem is theological. A party famous for intolerance has to pretend two quite different religions, Mormonism and Christianity, are the same. (Trust me, I'm an atheist. These religions have more in common than Islam and Judaism -- but not much more.)

This is a lot to pretend, but it doesn't seem as hard as, for example, worshipping both Christ and Mammon. It would be doable -- except for the Hell problem. Many GOP Christians believe in Hell, and they believe consorting with heretics is one way to get there. Mormonism is heresy; no doubt there. An eternity in Hell is a high price to pay for winning an election.

Maybe the GOP will patch this up -- but I think they're going to have to choose. They'll either have to offend Mormons and Romney supporters or offend their entire Christian Base.

Despite his current dominance, I don't think Romney will be the GOP candidate. If he is, he'll have a hard time harnessing the base.

If Perry is the alternative, expect Obama to ask if he'd have been welcome at Perry's *head ranch.

Considering the horrible odds against Obama's reelection he'll need more of this Irish luck.


Google is trying to enforce full transparency in their, large, corner of the web. I think they're making a terrible mistake.

I can see why they do it though. Most large sites can't handle the spam attacks routed through anonymous posting.

Gordon's Notes, though, we're not so big. Most of the comments I get are anonymous (excepting Martin and MaysonicWrites). Many of them are excellent. Fortunately Google's AI is now pretty good at killing the spam attacks, so I can easily manage the low volumes I get. [1].

Anonymity is something a *cough* specialty blog like GN can support.

[1] Sure would help if Google gave me an RSS feed of comment counts though - so i know there are new ones to inspect. As it is comments go immediately to recent posts and I get a notice by email, but older post comments can sit around until I notice and authorize them.


Of course I support Krugman's army. Not because they have answers; but because humans are the neurons of the mass mind. OWS is thinking in action. If nothing else, it's a start on a very long struggle.

Klein, Salmon and Collins have done a good job on the scene. Klein suggests the 1% may be feeling some heat ...

A breakdown of trust - Ezra Klein - The Washington Post

At a medical-innovation conference in Cleveland this week, I heard chief executive officers complain about being treated like “criminals,” about profit being regarded as intrinsically suspicious, about the president saying unkind things about oil companies, about exemplars of hard work and success being viewed as greedy rather than productive. Like Rodney Dangerfield, the rich may be making money, but what they really want is respect.

Even worse, they said, was the fact that their every suggestion for getting the economy back on track was denounced as a self-serving grab for more profits. Shouldn’t it be obvious to everyone that it’s better to give corporate America a tax holiday for overseas income, because otherwise the money will never return home? Isn’t it clear that we need more high-skills visas for foreigners? Have we seen the airports in Asia? Doesn’t the U.S. realize that if Germany and China and South Korea roll out the red carpet for companies, giving them every tax advantage and regulatory break to locate there, that the U.S. must up the ante?

The CEOs have a point. Not on the tax holiday for overseas income -- that’s a scam. But the U.S. could make it easier to do business here. We do need more high-skills visas. We do need to reform our tax code, reduce our deficit, upgrade our education system and repair our infrastructure. We even need to compete with the incentives these companies receive to relocate their factories and research centers; it’s a fact of the modern economy, and we can’t pretend otherwise.

But the self-pitying, self-righteous tone of these complaints misses the big picture, and makes the underlying problem worse: The rest of America doesn’t trust corporate America right now. The rich have been getting fabulously richer, corporate America is sitting on trillions in cash reserves, and where has that gotten the rest of the country? A shabby, jobless recovery in the early Aughts, followed by a credit bubble, followed by a crash in which ordinary Americans had to bail out Wall Street, followed by the worst economy in generations...

Krugman has said the something similar -- the OWS gang can't be as dangerously incompetent as the titans of industry and Wall Street. My recent post on the crummy option for middle-class investing is partly a reflection of this global mistrust. Why should we trust the financial statements publicly traded companies are producing? And if we can't trust those statements, how can we trust stock funds?

Good job OWS and OccupyMN. Keep at it.

The rest of us don't have to merely stand and wait. Even if we can't physically join OWS, or even local movements like Occupy Minnesota, we can donate though. Start with $25. (PS. The donation worked without providing a phone number of email address. The inevitable paper spam will at least help our ailing USPS.)

Friday, October 07, 2011

Investment in a whitewater world

During the last half of the 20th century retail investors earned positive returns with some mixture of stocks, bonds, real estate (personal) and cash. Mutual funds, and especially index mutual funds, made middle class investing possible.

Then came the great market bubble of the 90s, the real estate bubbles of the 00s, and the rise of IT enabled economic predation. The vast flow of growth returns was diverted from the middle class investor to corporate executives and sharper, faster, players. Corporate financial statements became less and less credible as new ways were found to obfuscate financial status. In a world of IT enabled complexity, risk assessment became extraordinarily difficult. Where growth opportunities were strong, as in China, the markets were corrupt and inaccessible.

Maybe we'll return to the relative calm of the 1980s, or even the slow growth of the 1970s. Oil prices may stabilize around $150/barrel. China's economy may make a soft landing and the Chinese nation may follow Taiwan's path to democracy. The GOP may shift away from the Tea Party base and, once in power, raise taxes substantially while implementing neo-Keynesian policies by another name. North Korea may go quietly. The EU may hold together while gradually abandoning the Euro. Cultural shifts might make personal integrity a core value. Disruptive innovations, like high performance robotics and widespread AI, may slow. The invisible hand and social adaptation may solve the mass disability problem of the wealthy nations. Immigration policy, a breakthrough in the prevention of dementia, or the return of ubasute may offset the impacts of age demographics. We may even ... we may even look intelligently at the costs of health care and education and manage both of them.

If these things happen then some economic growth will return, stock prices will reflect fundamentals, bonds will become feasible investments, and interest rates will be non-zero.

Or they won't happen.

In which case, we can look forward to more of the same. The best guide to the near future, after all, is the near past. In this whitewater world then, in which financial statements are unreliable and wealth streams are diverted, what are the investment opportunities? We cannot recover the lost returns of the past 11 years, but it would be nice to be less of a chump.

Real estate seems a reasonable option, though there we face the problem of untrustworthy investment agents. There is not yet a John Bogle of 21st century real estate investment. (This, incidentally, suggests something government could do -- engineer a trustworthy investment representative for American real estate.)

The other option is to switch from prey to predator.

During the 20th century retail investors could only make one way bets. We basically had to bet on economic growth and prosperity. For a time we could shift a bit. If we thought near term growth looked bad, we could shift to bonds. If we thought a crash was coming, we could shift to cash. Basically, however, we could only get good returns by investing in stocks and betting on growth. This worked under conditions of economic growth and relatively integrity. Under the conditions of the past decade this made us prey.

Predators don't make one way bets. They make bets on downturns, on upturns, on volatility, on stability, on irrationality, on continued fraud, on reform. They make bets on bets. They play the options and straddle options games that brought down the world economy. It's too bad they won, but, with a bit of help from our AI friends, they did.

So I'm learning about options. It's not what I like to do, but I don't make the rules.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Saletan on the ethics of wealth and transplants

I'm a physician. I bet most physicians have been thinking about this over the past two years as Steve Jobs' health deteriorated ...
Steve Jobs liver transplant: Organ donation is the best way to honor him. - William Saletan - Slate Magazine

... there’s something you can do to help people such as Jobs. You can supply replacement parts for the machines that keep them alive. You can sign up as an organ donor...

... To get the liver, Jobs went to Tennessee, because the waiting list in Northern California was too long. There weren’t enough livers to go around. Lots of other people in Northern California needed livers but couldn’t get them, because they didn’t have the kind of money or savvy Jobs did. They couldn’t afford to fly around the country, go through extensive evaluations at multiple transplant centers, and guarantee their availability within an hour for the next liver that became available...

... Earlier this year, when Jobs took a leave from Apple because of deteriorating health, I asked whether he should have received his transplant in the first place. As bioethicist Arthur Caplan has noted, almost none of the 1,500 people who received liver transplants in the U.S. when Jobs did, in the first quarter of 2009, had cancer. That’s because there’s no evidence that transplants stop metastatic cancer. The much more likely scenario is that the cancer continues to spread and soon kills the patient, destroying a liver that could have kept someone else alive for many years. Among liver recipients, cancer patients have the worst survival rate. While more than 70 percent of liver recipients in Jobs’ age bracket are still alive and functioning five years later, Jobs lasted only half that long.
In theory wealth and genius are not part of the criteria for liver transplant. In theory, even goodness isn't part of the criteria.

In reality, money makes a huge difference with most things in life. Nobody has ever said Jobs was saintly. Most people with money and/or fame or both would have done what Jobs did. It would have been good if he'd left some money for less privileged people in need of new parts, but that wasn't his style.

Even though Jobs only did what was normal for the powerful, The Tennessee transplant center did worse than most. They do deserve some hard questions.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Jobs parents

I've read the obits. Steven Levy (Wired) and John Markoff of the NYT were best. The Economist disappointed.

I've also read many of the posts from longtime Apple bloggers. They rightly express sympathy to Jobs wife and children.

Noone, though, has expressed sympathy for Jobs parents - Paul and Clara Jobs. It is a terrible thing to outlive your child. From the bit I've read they gave their challenging son all they had. In a way they could not have imagined, their sacrifices changed our world for the better.

I assume Jobs did well by them.

My thoughts go to you Paul and Clara.

Update: Paul Jobs died in 1993 at age 70; Clara Jobs (nee Hagopian) died in 1986 at age 62. They both lived to see Jobs early success. I found one 9/2/11 article about them.

As the father of 3 adopted children I noticed a few things in the coverage of Jobs death. There is much more discussion of his birth parents than his adoptive parents. From what I have read, Jobs had little or no contact with or interest in his birth parents. I saw some articles claiming they might have some claim on Jobs estate. I'd be astonished if that were true.

I also notice that references to Jobs' adopted sister Patti seem to assume they were loosely connected. Jobs grew up with Patti; she was his sister.

Jobs parents seemed to value their privacy more than most. Jobs did too.

GTD: Create appointments not tasks

Since nobody will make the software I want I often have to choose between creating a task and creating a calendar appointment. Sometimes I do both, but mostly I do one or the other.

If it's a task I really need to get done (A) I schedule it on my calendar. I don't create a task. When I schedule it I add a note on what I want to do and what the next steps are (if any). I schedule the time I need to do the work. Sometimes there are some related tasks, but I try not to get fancy.

B Tasks are things I want to do. Sometimes I need to do them, but I may not have any capacity to schedule them. I put B tasks in my task/todo software and I usually assign them a target date based on their size and my predicted capacity. If they get more urgent I make them A tasks and schedule them (so in this case I have both a task and appointment, but it started as a task).

C Tasks are often ideas or future projects. Sometimes they're important, but can't be scheduled (too big, too expensive, etc). C tasks are a "backlog" of work. Periodically I purge them if they don't get done, but they mostly sit quietly in the queue, not bothering anyone. A C task can be promoted to a B task -- and it might even get a date. Or, if time/money arrives, they go straight to A.

See also:

Your public Facebook posts - try this Google search

If you've ever used Facebook, log out of Facebook then try this search: "your name"

I don't share publicly - but I do post and comment on "Pages" which belong to organizations.Those pages are always public, so what I have written there is also public.

You can't make these posts non-public, but you can delete them. Log in to Facebook, then repeat the search. You should now see a delete box.

I found some posts could not be deleted. I got the "failed to hide minifeed story" bug on one.

PS. In the midst of this exercise my (true and unusual) name was registered as a Tidbits author with a 1996 article. This was a puzzling experience, because it was at first completely unfamiliar. As I read it, however, it became vaguely familiar. I remember the ideas, if not the article. I'm pretty sure it is mine. Weird.

GTD: Introduction to a series

With this post I'm starting a 'gtd' labeled series of posts. GTD is an acronym for "getting things done", a productivity methodology that was fashionable a few years ago. It's less fashionable now, but it will return under another name. After all, the base approaches have been rebranded many times over the past two thousand years.

These will be short posts - shorter than this introduction and much shorter than my old GTD posts [1]. I'll space them out. If you're interested you can experiment and add things to your own way of working. If you're not interested, they should be easy to ignore. There won't be anything truly novel - this ground has been well worked.

Posts will focus on things I've done since at least 2004. I'll mention the tools I use, but the main focus will be methodology. Each post will be limited to one component spanning tasks/projects, calendaring, and email. They will incorporate my more recent experiences with Agile development methodologies.

See also: [1]

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The 4S is fine, but it's Sprint I'm interested in

I've never seen so few posts after an Apple keynote. Clearly the iPhone 4S disappointed many; though it's noteworthy that Apple's web site cratered today. I've seen it slow, but never with a server error.

Personally, I'm fine with it. I own a 4 and, with the slender and high quality case I use it's been robust and excellent. The 4S may (who knows) fit many existing cases and it should work fine with existing peripherals. Since it's an iteration on an established design it's much less likely to have Apple's inevitable new product issues. All the improvements are appreciated.

The 4S is exactly what I'd hoped for. [1]

Emily will get the 32GB model and we'll extend her AT&T contract ... unless ....

Unless Sprint does something interesting.

The Oct 7 Sprint announcement is the one I'm waiting for.

Sprint has nothing to lose. They're fourth down at their own 10 yard line with two minutes left in the game. Time to put the ball in the air.

The WSJ has already told us that Sprint has sold their soul to Apple, but all we're told is that they committed to selling a lot of iPhones. We don't know what orders Apple gave Sprint.

From the sound of it Apple acquired Sprint the same way Microsoft acquired Nokia. No cash down, but a promise of a future.

If Apple is now effectively running Sprint the way Apple thinks a mobile phone company should run, then things could get very interesting for the American mobile phone industry -- and quite profitable for Sprint shareholders. (Sprint's share price was on a roller coaster today. I haven't bought shares in a long time, but I may buy tomorrow.)

This is what I'm looking for on the 7th. I'm looking for Sprint to provide low cost unlimited texting/SMS support as part of their iPhone data plan. With iMessage they're not losing out much anyway; iPhone to iPhone texts are free.

I'm also looking for Sprint to offer a 5GB data cap to their iOS customers for the usual monthly data fee - instead of their "unlimited" phone data service.

Huh? What's good about that?! What's good about that is that the 5GB data allowance will include free iPhone mobile hot spot services (tethering) over Sprint's 4G network.

Lastly Sprint will offer an Apple style approach to mobile phone contracting -- simple plans, clear costs, consumer-friendly voice minute options.

Apple will use Sprint to beat Verizon and AT&T over the head. They don't want those two to get the power of a duopoly. Sprint will, in turn, become Apple's mobile phone company. Droid users will not stay with Sprint.

If I'm right, then Emily's 4S may be coming from Sprint -- because we'll be moving the entire family over. If Sprint doesn't do this, then I'll sell my shares at a loss.

[1] What I really want is a water resistant iPhone. I wasn't hoping for that. That's not Apple's style.

Update: Early signs are that Sprint whiffed. They are said to charge $30/month to tether, and also to introduce a 5GB/month data limit. That would leave me with AT&T.

Update 9/7/11: Good thing I was too tired and busy to buy any Sprint stock. They blew this opportunity. I wonder if Sprint knew their network couldn't handle the bandwidth from a 5GB capped bundled mifi/iPhone service. I fear they're goners; they certainly blew a great opportunity to differentiate. We signed up for 2 more years with AT&T.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Occupy Wall Street (OWS): the mass mind masticates

Two months ago, Israel was protesting ...

Gordon's Notes: Israel's uprising: Is it about the failure of 21st century democracies?

... Israel is our latest example. Like the Wisconsin protests, this is best understood, I think, as a collective protest against a failure of citizenship. It's the middle class beginning to realize that the top 0.5% owns the game. I hope this movement visits America soon...

Israel's "social justice protest" grew from a small start to 100,000 participants in about 16 days. It ended about 6 weeks later. After an inchoate beginning it was classified as a part of the 2011 Israeli middle class protests.

The Occupy Wall Street protests began about 15 days ago...

BBC News - Occupy Wall Street protests grow amid Radiohead rumour

... An estimated 2,000 people have gathered in Lower Manhattan, New York, for the largest protest yet under the banner Occupy Wall Street. Demonstrators marched on New York's police headquarters to protest against arrests and police behaviour. Several hundred people have camped out near Wall Street since 17 September as part of protests against corporate greed, politics, and inequality...

Despite the best efforts of the coward cop and the champagne toasters the OWS numbers are growing slowly. The numbers are unlikely to approach anywhere near the scale of Israel's protests. Adjusting for population size a similar US protest would involve millions.

Unlikely, but not impossible. These social movements are fundamentally chaotic. Why did the Berlin wall fall when it did? Why not five years earlier? We can't say why. We can't say when.

The pressure is building though. Sometime in the next year Americans between 40 and 70 are going to do some basic math. When they run the numbers most of them will realize the lost years from 1999 to 2011+ cannot be made up. Their retirement will be very different from their current life, and very different from what they expected. The mass mind is going to begin to process what hit us all.

Maybe then we'll see some real unrest.